People with a record frequently experience challenges in obtaining or maintaining housing. For those who have been incarcerated, on supervision, charged, and/or arrested, the background check for rental applications can be a persistent obstacle. Lack of stable housing is a major roadblock to successful reintegration into the community or the pursuit of social and economic opportunities. It is therefore encouraging that states have begun to enact laws limiting record-based disqualifications in housing decisions.
On June 18, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the Fair Chance in Housing Act, the most rigorous state legislation to date limiting consideration of criminal records in housing decisions. During a ceremony to commemorate Juneteenth, he described the new law as a step to “level what has been for too long an uneven playing field when it comes to access to housing,” explaining that it will bar landlords from asking about criminal history in most instances. The NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Latino Action Network, Fair Share Housing Center, and New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism led organizational advocacy for the measure. Senator Troy Singleton, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited the “staggering amount of data on the national level that shows securing housing is one of the key barriers to reducing recidivism,” according to the New York Times. “This measure will allow those who have paid their debt to society to move forward with their lives in a productive manner.” Another sponsor, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, noted that “We’re fighting generational poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness through social justice reform measures such as this one.”
With New Jersey’s legislation—following on the heels of laws enacted in 2019 in Colorado, Illinois, and New York, legislation in D.C. in 2017, and a slew of local ordinances since 2016— “fair chance housing” has arrived on the national reintegration agenda. While many states have adopted reforms that limit the use of criminal records in employment and occupational licensing, until these recent developments housing does not appear to have been a priority for lawmakers, at least at the state level.